The curious case of Russian women

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Women in Russia are expected to maintain high standards of their appearance and behaviour

International Women’s Day: widely known, but not so widely celebrated. To this day, women have been fighting for over a century for equal rights in society and the workplace. Nevertheless, not many know that this day derives from socialist movements around the globe.

Although the first observance of Woman’s Day happened in New York at the beginning of the 20th century, Soviet Russia was the first country to declare it as a national holiday. United Nations later grabbed the idea and spread it across the globe.

Surprisingly, women in the liberal west had a poorer position than those in conservative Russia, where women’s rights had already been established in society as early as the 18th century. Russian women did not need countless feminist movements and protests to break through. It is worth mentioning that this country was once ruled by a female monarch whose political powers still have no comparisons in the world history.

8th March in Russia is almost as significant as Christmas in the rest of Europe. Even though the conservative gender stereotypes are still alive and well, the gestures of appreciation can be seen across the country.

This holiday means that official institutions, including non- governmental ones are closed, television programmes broadcast special show. For one day, everything you see is all about women and men honouring women. It is a tradition for women to receive flowers, most commonly tulips, from their spouses, partners or male colleagues as a sign of appreciation and respect. Other gifts such as chocolates, perfume and jewellery is also accepted. Such affection signs go beyond one’s closest circle. For years, male police officers have been handing out flowers to women on the streets, very often using their own initiative.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, several post-socialist countries kept the tradition to celebrate International Women’s Day. One thing for sure, you will never see this kind of celebration dedicated to females in Western Europe.

At this day, the feminist movements are not widely supported in the country. Many Russian women frown upon hearing the word ‘feminism’. In contemporary Russia feminism is also associated to a punk rock feminist group ‘Pussy Riot’, whose members have staged a naked protest performance in a Russian Orthodox Church, demeaning two most private and conservative subjects in the society: the church and one’s sexuality.

In 2004, the Kinskey Institute study named Russian society existing in a “sexless sexism”, meaning that “all empirical sex differences being taken as given by nature.” Some Russian women are prepared to defend society’s expectations to take care of themselves, look attractive and raise children, while men are expected to carry all the financial burden of the household. Ironically, in the traditional Russian household, decisions related to finance or domestic issues are made by women. Thus, a popular Russian saying is: “a man is the head of the household, but a woman is the neck. Wherever the neck turns, the head is going to follow.”

Even with such a strict sense of gender roles, we would have to think twice, before labelling Russia as a “backwards” country. It is one of the first countries in the world to give women voting rights. It is the first country to have a female astronaut, Valentina Tereshkova, who was previously a textile factory assembly worker. NASA in the United States, despite the widespread egalitarian spirit in American society, only accepted the idea that a woman is capable of being an astronaut only two decades later.

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Valentina Tereshkova was the first female to fly into space

It is difficult to be a woman, and very difficult to be a woman in Russia. It is often contradictory and despite equal economic and political rights, you are pressured by certain expectations, and very often from other females. On the other hand, you are also praised for being one and history proves that the sky is the limit.

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